Becoming Soldiers in 1775

The citizen soldiers of Colonel Hinman’s regiment that garrisoned Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1775 arrived as well equipped and trained as one could expect for soldiers rapidly raised following the Lexington alarm. Arms, accouterments, and drill weren’t the only important aspects of being a soldier, as these and other colonial soldiers discovered during the summer of 1775.

In camp and on the march, keeping soldiers from shooting was a surprisingly big challenge.

These militia-men turned regulars may well have imagined their new lives in the army as an adventure, the same way we often imagine their service now. New to army life, many of these soldiers were itching for a fight, so much so that officer’s worked all summer long to keep them from shooting in camp, on the march, or wherever these soldiers got bored.  The men of Colonel David Waterbury’s Fifth Connecticut regiment, which encamped in New York City during the summer of 1775, were chastised, “All wrestling and gaming of every kind in camp is strictly forbidden-the firing of guns in camp is also strictly forbidden.  Only ten days later, these soldiers were reminded in general orders, “Each soldier is absolutely forbid firing on their march except ordered by their officers, and they are to take especial care to injure no man’s property”. The message still had not been taken to heart by July 5th when Waterbury’s men were reminded, “all firing of guns either in or without hearing of the Camp is strictly forbid without orders of the field officer’s of the day.” Clearly, at least one of these soldiers had argued that what was out of site and earshot didn’t violate orders, a testament to the ingenuity of these Connecticut Yankees. Indeed, some of these trigger happy new privates lost track of whether their weapons were loaded at all, prompting the Colonel to order,” The officer’s of each Company to exercise and see that the Soldiers guns are not loaded before exercise.”

Officer’s, new to their regular posts were not immune from such lapses in discipline or procedure either. Sergeant Aaron Barlow’s orderly book records an admonishment to the officer’s of Waterbury’s regiment that, “In the orders for exercising the troops it was expected that the officers would exercise themselves, as belonging to that body.” Back up at Ticonderoga, July was an equally trying month for Colonel Hinman, his officers and men. Fed up with trying to get his soldiers to actually show up for duty each morning on the parade of the old French Fort, he spelled out their duty to his officers. Sergeant Bayze Wells diary and orderly book records for the 11th of July:
The respective companies to be called out at half after four o’clock in the morning to roll calling. The officers to see that the rolls are actually called and take care of all non-appearants and all the companies in camp to be turned out at 8 o’clock in the forenoon and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in order for military exercise to be instructed therein and continued for the space of two hours and a half at each time. Both forenoon and afternoon, to be conducted in such a manner by the major and adjutant shall direct with the assistance of the officers of the respective companies.
The same lapses in procedure that perplexed Colonel Hinman, were of great concern to General Schuyler when wrote of arriving at his new command of Ticonderoga on the 18th of July. While eager to shoot by day, these Connecticut men took a more relaxed approach to security by night. Schulyer wrote to Governor Trumbull, relating his experience.
About ten, last night, I arrived at the landing-place at the north end of Lake George; a post occupied by a Captain and one hundred men. A sentinel, on being informed I was in the boat, quitted his post to go and awaken the guard, consisting of three men, in which he had no success. I walked up and came to another, a sergeant’s guard. Here the sentinel challenged, but suffered me to come up to him, the whole guard, like the first, in the soundest sleep. With a penknife only I could have cut off both guards, and then have set fire to the block-house, destroyed the stores and starved the people here. At this post I have pointedly recommended vigilance and care, as all the stores from Fort George must necessarily be landed there. But I hope to get the better of this inattention. The officers and men are all good-looking people, and decent in their deportment, and I really believe will make good soldiers as soon as I can get the better of this nonchalance of theirs. Bravery, I believe, they are far from wanting.

As much as marching or drill, camp hygene was vital discipline in miltary life.

 

With the threat of British invasion from the north in the summer of 1775 being merely a pervasive rumor, these lapses in security were less of the threat to these green soldiers than their personal habits in camp. Back down in New York City, Colonel Waterbury’s men had to be continuously reminded not to terrorize the poor citizens of New York. As early as July 3rd, General orders included a pointed note to, “take particular care that the Soldiers pull down no fence nor ruin any railes, to be careful that no fires are made (except for) cooking only in the rear of the Regiment.” If orders are any guide, fence rails remained a favorite firewood for Waterbury’s men throughout the month in New York City. Camp mischief and kitchens aside, these new soldiers often lacked the cleanliness that was the mark of both discipline and a good bulwark against disease.  Colonel Waterbury himself had to order his men on July 3rd to clean up their company streets after breakfast. At Ticonderoga Colonel Hinman had to wrestle with the most basic of necessary activities.  In his July 14th orders he specifically ordered his men to use latrines, rather than immediate vicinity of the Fort itself.

A party of men to be drafted to make a suitable number of grog holes. For the men to do their occasion at said holes to be at the direction of the Quarter-Master. Everyone that doth occasion within 20 rods of the garrison at any other place then the place prepared for that purpose to be confined and punished according to the judgment of a regimental court martial.
This problem may not have been fully disposed of during 1775. Sergeant Wells orderly book continued on during the Canadian campaign, noting on April 30th, 1776 that “no Person Shall Set Down and Ease themselves of their Bodily Excrements Within Seventy yards or Paces of this Garison.” Not surprisingly the diaries of both Sergeant Aaron Barlow and Chaplain Benjamin Trumbull record Colonel Hinman’s regiment as very sickly when they arrived at Ticonderoga in the middle of August. Aaron Barlow specifically noted that he and his men were, “lodging among the fleas” during his brief stay at Ticonderoga.
As with any green soldiers, patriotic, drafted, or otherwise, these soldiers had mixed success in their first skirmishes around the British Fort at Saint John’s at the northernmost end of Lake Champlain. Aaron Barlow’s orderly books record many men tried for cowardice in the face of the enemy, or dropping their firelocks when the encountered enemy patrols. After a hasty and panicked retreat from St. Johns south to Isle au Noix, Reverend Benjamin Trumbull offered a spirited defense of his fellow American citizen-soldiers, stating that, “in Fact, they did not wan either Zeal or Courage.” In time, these green soldiers did become battle-hardened and disciplined enough to execute a series of successful sieges on the Army’s advance towards the heart of Quebec. However, with the Connecticut soldiers enlisted only for seven months, the results of this training and discipline were lost as enlistments expired through November of 1775. Those green soldiers who answered duty’s call in 1776 would create the same headaches all over again.
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